Wayne LaPierre, CEO and executive vice president of the National Rifle Association (NRA), got in a fight last week with NRA president and Iran/Contra pardonee Oliver North over the present and future of the organization. The latter accused the former of hiding vast financial improprieties, motivating the former to accuse the latter of being a blackmailing liar. North fought LaPierre’s law and LaPierre won, but the NRA may wind up losing everything in the end if it is determined to have abused its tax-exempt nonprofit status, which all available evidence suggests it most certainly has. Personally, I was hoping a large cow would fall on both men, but there’s a song about that, too.
For the moment, LaPierre has maintained control over the notoriously far-right gun advocacy group. North was ousted as president over the weekend and replaced by Carolyn Meadows, chairwoman of the Stone Mountain Memorial Association board of directors. Stone Mountain, which looms like a granite skull over a park in Georgia, is a 400-foot tall monument depicting Confederate leaders Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson which Smithsonian magazine describes as “a testament to the enduring legacy of white supremacy.” Meadows also sits on the board of the American Conservative Union, which annually hosts the genuinely terrifying Conservative Political Action Conference.
So yeah, not so much with the change from within for the NRA. The point may soon be moot, though. Thanks to the office of the New York State attorney general, the NRA is facing an existential crisis unparalleled in its long and sordid history.
“A wide-ranging investigation into the NRA’s tax-exempt status announced this weekend by New York State Attorney General Letitia James threatens the very existence of the organization,” reports Josh Kovensky for Talking Points Memo (TPM). “James has the power to ask a judge to dissolve the gun-rights group if she finds evidence that the board engaged in serial violations of New York state charity law, as her office did with the Donald J. Trump Foundation.”
According to the TPM report, Attorney General James also retains the power to dismantle the NRA board and force the organization to pay restitution for what the Guardian describes as “allegations of self-dealing and excessive personal spending.” The details remain somewhat murky for the moment. Was North ejected because he was trying to blackmail the NRA as LaPierre accused, or was he trying to expose systemic improprieties within the organization and lost a power struggle? I suppose we could ask North, but he’s probably busy in the basement shredding documents. Old habits, et to the cet to the ra.
What we know at this point is unsurprisingly tangled for an organization deeply inspired by the Ku Klux Klan, which shamelessly advocates for full-spectrum gun ownership in the midst of a gun violence crisis while hiding its grisly profit motive behind a constitutional amendment that was outdated when whale oil lamps were hip. Apparently, the current mess started because of a public relations agency, which, well, of course.
“The controversy stems from the NRA’s relationship with a public relations firm called Ackerman McQueen (known as ‘Ack Mack’ to NRA staffers),” reports Jane Conaston for Vox. “Ackerman McQueen has worked with the NRA since the 1980s, and has been a part of every public development of the organization, from its ‘I’m the NRA, and I vote’ campaign to current efforts that have relied heavily on culture war tropes.”
The NRA saw this storm coming last August and began reviewing its financial relationship with its various outside contractors. When asked by the NRA to hand over financial records, however, Ackerman McQueen refused. “The dispute led the NRA to sue Ackerman earlier this month,” reports The New York Times, “and the lawsuit is at the heart of the infighting. Mr. North is an employee of Ackerman and is paid ‘millions of dollars annually’ by the company, Mr. LaPierre told the board on Thursday. Mr. North had sided with Ackerman in the legal battle, alarming some board members.”
Oh, what a tangled web we weave when we practice to deceive.
Disquiet over the advertising tactics of Ackerman McQueen has been growing within the NRA for some time now, and you have to ask yourself how bad it must be for the NRA — which makes a habit of politicizing massacres like the recent slaughter in New Zealand while denouncing family members of gun violence victims for politicizing massacres — to finally become grossed out.
The content aired on NRA-TV, which is run by Ackerman McQueen, was a definite catalyst for the current crisis. That content is often brazenly racist; last September, after the children’s television show “Thomas & Friends” introduced a Kenyan character, NRA-TV ran an episode showing the widely recognized trains wearing Klan hoods. This sort of “Wait, what?” rhetorical nonsense is a common fascist tactic, gaslighting for preschoolers, but the segment received wide condemnation and furrowed the brows of the lily-livered liberals at the NRA.
Days before she won her election to become New York’s attorney general, Letitia “Tish” James gave an interview to Ebony magazine about her hopes and intentions for the office she sought to occupy. It did not bode well for the NRA. “The NRA holds [itself] out as a charitable organization,” she said, “but in fact, [it] really [is] a terrorist organization.” That pretty much sums it up. James is clearly no friend of the NRA, but if her investigation bears out the accusations of financial impropriety, she will have the power and the right to crack those gun hoarders across her knee. If the end of the NRA comes at the hands of a Black woman prosecutor, it would be justice of the sweetest kind.
The NRA will almost certainly go full “witch hunt” in the vein of Donald Trump and accuse Attorney General James of undertaking a politically motivated attack. Trump has already barged into the dispute and accused James of undertaking an illegal investigation while claiming the NRA is “under siege.” Yet no less a light than the right-wing National Review sees blood on the moon for the organization. “Nonprofits have to abide by certain laws and regulations,” writes National Review columnist Jim Geraghty, “and if the NRA has violated them, James will no doubt pursue the most severe punishment possible.”